EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
A Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony was held at the Air Armament Museum May 8.
More than six million Jews died during the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945.
The guest speakers were Lori Ripps, daughter of Molly Gross, a Holucaust survivor, and Anne Kelz, who gave accounts of family members who were Holocaust victims.
Ripps spoke on behalf of her 91-year-old mother, born in Bendzin, Poland. In 1942 at age 14, she and other family members were rounded up by Nazis and incarcerated in Peterswaldau, a German forced labor camp. There, the prisoners were either selected for work or killed.
She recounted her mother’s feelings as she was loaded on to a truck headed for (labor camp) as others were being murdered around her.
“Imagine you’re 14 years old,” Ripps said. “You’re confused, mostly terrified, and as you witness people being killed, whose only crime was they were Jews, you sense you’re better off on that truck than not.”
Gross remembers offering her mother her shoes, moments before she was shot, Ripps said.
“Her dear mother was lying there among the dead and wounded, wearing her shoes,” she said.
Gross’ mother survived the shooting, but was murdered weeks later, Ripps said. Gross’ father died in the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Gross worked making ammunition and sewed uniforms for the Hitler Youth.
During two-and-half years in the labor camp, Gross endured starvation, beatings, illness and witnessed countless atrocities, Ripps said.
Gross and her sister were liberated by Russian troops in 1945 when she was 17. She now resides in Pensacola.
“Many survivors are no longer with us,” she said. “Those still alive are aging and soon will not be here to tell their experiences. It’s up to us to be witnesses for our generation, the next generation and those to come, to keep their stories and memories alive.”
Kelz, a local resident, lost 33 family members in the Holocaust.
They were deported in May 1944 from Hungary to Auschwitz, in the same railroad car.
Kelz said she knew about her family members’ deaths through survivors’ stories and letters sent to her father.
“My grandfather inspired others in the camp by telling them to live another day,” Kelz said of one account. “He and his brother died in November 1944. They walked arm-in-arm into the crematorium. He only cried when the Nazis cut off his beard.”
Kelz recalled a cousin who saw her mother-in-law about to be cremated.
“She left her work station to be with the old lady, so she wouldn’t be afraid and alone when she died,” Kelz said.
She said some family members who survived went on to have many children and grandchildren.
Kelz ended her speech by encouraging the audience to look for the positive things in life.
“I believe in beauty and joy,” Kelz said. “This Holocaust remembrance calls upon us to care and do our part to make the world kinder and better.”
Musicians from a local temple played traditional Jewish selections.
The goal of Days of Remembrance is to educate present and future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust, and offer ways to ensure it never happens again, Ripps said.
“If we were to take a moment of silence for every victim of the Holocaust, we would be silent for more than 11 years,” Ripps said, remembering a quote she hear. “But silent, we must never be.”